Tag Archives: children

Why Parents Spank Their Children and Why They Should Stop

John hair and rylee at one

Let’s start with some numbers. About 30% of children have been hit/spanked by their caretakers or parents before turning 1 year old. About 85% of parents use hitting/spanking at some point to “discipline” their children. Spanking and hitting children is common among American parents.

Many parents who spank their children do so for religious, cultural, or other reasons. Many parents who spank or use corporal punishment are, in many ways, wonderful parents. The purpose of this blog—and the accompanying podcast—is not to villainize parents who spank. Instead, the purpose is to explore the positive and the negatives of spanking and guide readers (or listeners) toward the possibility that there are better alternatives to teaching children. If you want to listen now, here’s the podcast link: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/ or https://itunes.apple.com/fr/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?l=en

The next part of this blog is excerpted from the classic and popular book, “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen.” Just kidding. The book is neither classic nor popular. It also didn’t win any awards. But since I wrote the book, and I like it, I was briefly tempted to exaggerate its beauty and wonder. Now I’m back to reality. It’s a book. Some people find it helpful. But it didn’t make the New York Times bestseller list (yet).

Physical or Corporal Punishment (from Sommers-Flanagan and Sommers-Flanagan, 2011)

Physical or corporal punishment can involve hitting, pushing, slapping, washing children’s mouths out with soap, holding children down, and other physical encounters designed to obtain behavioral compliance. Corporal punishment always involves using direct power to reduce undesirable behavior.

Spanking is a particularly controversial topic with parents and when entering into a discussion about spanking practitioners are warned to use substantial sensitivity and tact (which we will discuss later). For now, we want to emphasize that our professional position on spanking and physical or corporal punishment is straightforward and based on psychological research and common sense. Kazdin (2008) provides an excellent description of what the research says about using punishment (including spanking):

. . . study after study has proven that punishment all by itself, as it is usually practiced in the home, is relatively ineffective in changing behavior. . . .

Each time, punishing your child stops the behavior for a moment. Maybe your child cries, too, and shows remorse. In our studies, parents often mistakenly interpret such crying and wails of I’m sorry! as signs that punishment has worked. It hasn’t. Your child’s resistance to punishment escalates as fast as the severity of the punishment does, or even faster. So you penalize more and more to get the same result: a brief stop, then the unwanted behavior returns, often worse than before. . . .

Bear in mind that about 35% of parents who start out with relatively mild punishments end up crossing the line drawn by the state to define child abuse: hitting with an object, harsh and cruel hitting, and so on. The surprisingly high percentage of line-crossers, and their general failure to improve their children’s behavior, points to a larger truth: punishment changes parents’ behavior for the worse more effectively than it changes children’s behavior for the better. And, as anyone knows who has physically punished a child more harshly than they meant to—and that would include most of us—it feels just terrible. (pp. 15, 16, 17)

For those of you who work with children and are familiar with the behavioral literature on punishment, Kazdin’s position on punishment is probably not new information. Virtually all child development and child behavior experts agree that punishment is ill-advised (Aucoin, Frick, & Bodin, 2006; Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Eggum, 2010; Gershoff, 2002). And if you’ve tracked the rationale for avoiding punishment closely, you may have noticed that we—and Kazdin—haven’t even mentioned two of the main reasons why punishment is inadvisable: (1) Punishment generally models aggression and (2) punishment involves paying substantial attention to negative behavior—which is why it often backfires and becomes positively reinforcing.

In the end, however, Kazdin’s position and all the research data in the world probably won’t convince many parents to stop using punishment. This is no big surprise: Using too much punishment can be habitual, irrational, and cultural—which is why we almost always avoid trying to engage parents in a rational argument regarding the merits and disadvantages of spanking.

We have additional resources on how to talk with parents in ways to help them see alternatives to spanking. These include:

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast, Episode 19 (10/23/17) on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/fr/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?l=en

Or via Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

Appendix B, Tip Sheet 1: The Rules of Spanking, from “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen” http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118012968.html

You can also check out Dr. Kazdin’s website and book at: http://alankazdin.com/

And here’s the description of the podcast:

Why Parents Spank Their Children and Why They Should Stop

What do you feel when your lovely child misbehaves and then the misbehavior continues or repeats? What happens when you feel terribly angry and just want to make your child’s behavior stop? What happens if you spank your child . . . and then . . . much to your relief, your child’s annoying behavior stops! In this episode, not only do Dr. Sara and Dr. John discuss the negative outcomes linked to spanking, John also annoys Sara so much that she takes the impressive step of turning off his microphone. Will John ever get to speak again? How long does his microphone time-out last? This episode includes a clip of what Cris Carter, former Minnesota Viking and Hall of Fame wide receiver, thinks about physical discipline. You also get to hear what Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff discovered in her meta-analysis of corporal punishment research.

When talking about B.F. Skinner and the science of negative reinforcement, for the first time in history, John says something that’s technically incorrect. If you’re the first person to correctly identify what John says that’s wrong, you will receive a copy of his book, “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen.” You can enter by posting your idea on the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast Facebook page or on John’s blog, at johnsommersflanagan.com.

 

 

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Brain Equity: Grandpa Pancake’s Tips for Healthy Children’s Brains

Rainbow 2017

These are the opening comments from a speech I made, along with speeches from Mike Halligan and Deb Halliday, for the Montana Young Child Conference in Helena . . . The powerpoints with the “Brain Equity Tips” are toward the bottom of this blog.

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Yesterday, today, and tomorrow have and will include many huge and tragic things happening in the world. There’s been hurricanes, shootings, and many other tragic events that are obviously important and that capture our attention.

But it’s also important for us not to become too preoccupied or obsessed with world events, partly because we have obligations and responsibilities right in front of us that also are immensely important. One of these things is parenting. Another is the formal and informal education of young children. We need to make sure that we’re not too distracted to do these things well.

Also, more than ever, local and national and global tragedies tend to divide us into sides. I’m tired of that divisiveness. That’s one great thing about tonight. We’re all on the same page. We can be together in our commitment to children’s education and well-being. For tonight, let’s bracket some of the huge world events and national events that divide us and may occupy a lot of our psyches, and bring our focus back to the very personal, immediate, and interpersonal process of raising and educating healthy, happy, ethical, and successful children

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I had my own, tiny little miniature, difficult experience yesterday. It was very hard. And I’d like to start this talk by sharing it with you.

I turned 60 years-old.

Don’t get me wrong. It was also a wonderful experience. But like lots of things in life: There was joy and there was horror.

Yesterday morning, I had to say, outloud, “I am 60-years-old.” It was painful. I was with my group of 8 doc students. They brought me pastries. Then, one of them asked, “Is it okay if we ask you your age? How polite. I hemmed and hawed. “Very old,” I said. “It’s big number.” It’s a difficult birthday. I’m 60.”

There were gasps. Seriously. Audible gasps in the room. One student acted VERY surprised. She said. “Oh! I was off 10 years! You don’t look . . . I didn’t think . . . I thought you were 70.”

A few minutes later, another one of them asked if they can call me grandpa pancake.

But we all have our limits. I said, NO. It’s Professor Pancake to you.

Being 60 and being Grandpa pancake, I decided it would be okay for me to begin this talk with an old painful memory

At some point in 1983 I got a new girlfriend. I know you might be thinking, what’s up? Now that John is 60 is he just going to ramble from one personal story to another? Maybe so. Someone gave me this microphone and so now I’m just talking.

Anyway, I got a new girlfriend. The point is that she had a 6-year-old daughter. At the time, I was on the verge of thinking I was pretty darn smart and clever. I was getting my doctorate in psychology. I could do Chi Square statistics in-my-head. Life was good.

My girlfriend invited me over for dinner. She lived at Aber Hall at UM because she was the Head Resident. And her daughter will be there. Kind of a big deal.

Dinner was served. Chelsea, my wife’s daughter, wrote our names in crayon, so we’d know where to sit. John, Rita, Chelsea. So sweet. Then, partway through dinner, I noticed Chelsea had a piece of lettuce sticking to her front teeth. Now, in my family of origin, we had this super-funny joke. Whenever someone got food on their lip or teeth, we’d say, “Hey, you’ve got food in your teeth and it’s making me sick.”

That’s pretty hilarious, don’t you think. So, in the moment of being a spontaneous cool boyfriend, I decided to share my family of origin humor with Chelsea. I looked at her and said, “You’ve got food in your teeth and it’s making me sick.”

You can probably guess how well that worked.

Chelsea started crying. She crawled up on her mom’s lap. Seeing the error of my ways, I got down on my knees and apologized.

This is a prime example of what makes parenting so darn difficult. There are an infinite number of multiple and rapidly shifting scenarios. That makes it impossible to be completely prepared for what happens next. It’s like Alfie Kohn wrote:

Even before I had children, I knew that being a parent was going to be challenging as well as rewarding. But I didn’t really know.

I didn’t know how exhausted it was possible to become, or how clueless it was possible to feel, or how, each time I reached the end of my rope, I would somehow have to find more rope.

The multiple and rapidly shifting scenarios that parents face include everything and anything. When I was the Executive Director for Families First in Missoula, I remember a mom who told me her daughter was pooping in the potted plants in the house. There was the mom whose daughter was afraid of the things that came out of toilets. There was a set of parents whose 10-year-old daughter was running the household. The parents whose children wouldn’t wear socks with seams . . . or eat any food that wasn’t white or yellow . . . or who first began using the F word at age five . . . in church.  Grocery store meltdowns, bad report cards, biting at daycare, not reading well, being too bossy with friends, forgetting homework, resisting homework, becoming school phobic, not cleaning their room, cleaning their room too much . . . you know what I mean, the challenging situations parent face are endless.

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For those of you interested and those of you who were at the Montana Young Child event and requested access to my powerpoints, click on this link: Montana Young Child Helena Keynote 2017

Thanks for reading and thanks for your commitment to the education and well-being of all children.

Weekend Listening: The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is BACK!

John and Ry and Photo

You know you’ve been waiting for this moment, ever since Season 1 of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast ended with a thrilling cliffhanger.

And now, your long wait is suddenly over.

Today is the world premier of Season 2 of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast. You may be wondering: Did Rachel get back together with Ross? Who shot J.R.? Will carnage ensue in GoT Season 8?

As important as they are, the PPPP promises to answer none of the above. Instead, we will rivet your attention with a swashbuckling episode titled, “Technology as a Barrier or Bridge to Family Relationships”

Here’s the trailer (er, description):

This OPENING episode of Season 2 of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is positively packed with information and tantalizing tips. TECHNOLOGY and SCREEN TIME is a huge issue for many parents. In this captivating episode, Dr. Sara and Dr. John are talking back to technology; they’re saying, “Hey technology, we’re taking you down! Well, not really. But the episode does include a range of AMAZING insights and tips to help parents understand and deal with the dangers and opportunities of technology and screen time. When you tune in, be sure to listen for:

  • Sara’s obsession with using contracts to manage her children’s screen-time
  • A clip from Dr. Dimitri Christakis’s TEDx Ranier talk where he provides a fun critique, partially narrated by Dr. Sara, on Baby Einstein (to watch Dr. Christakis’s full talk, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoT7qH_uVNo
  • How much a baby’s brain grows from birth to age 2 (can you guess?)
  • John’s four tips for raising children with healthy brains
  • Christakis’s three stage theory about how constantly changing screens contribute to children having attention problems
  • Sara’s and Dr. John’s thoughts on the appropriate use of technology and screens for families

Don’t wait. Sit your children down in front of the television (not serious here), grab your favorite personal device, and listen to your favorite podcasters launch themselves into SEASON 2!

To listen on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

To listen on Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/technology-as-a-barrier-and-bridge-to-healthy-family-relationships

Email your ideas, reactions, hopes, dreams, questions, and commitments for underwriting support to: johnsf44@gmail.com

 

 

Why Children Misbehave — The Adlerian Perspective

Mud

Alfred Adler believed that all human behavior is purposeful. People don’t act randomly, they engage in behaviors designed to help them accomplish specific goals. Adler believed that although individuals may not be perfectly aware of the link between their behaviors and their goals, the link is there nonetheless.

In this excerpt from our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories text, we describe the four goals of children’s misbehavior. Rudolph Dreikurs, one of Adler’s protégés, developed this theory of children’s misbehavior. Over the years, Dreikurs’s ideas have been extremely useful to many parents and parenting educators. It’s also useful to consider these ideas when trying to understand adult behaviors.

Here’s the excerpt:

Why Children Misbehave

Adler’s followers applied his principles to everyday situations. Rudolph Dreikurs posited that children are motivated to grow and develop. They’re naturally oriented toward feeling useful and a sense of belonging. However, when children don’t feel useful and don’t feel they belong—less positive goals take over. In his book The Challenge of Parenthood, Dreikurs (1948) identified the four main psychological goals of children’s misbehavior:

  1. To get attention.
  2. To get power or control.
  3. To get revenge.
  4. To display inadequacy.

Children’s behavior isn’t random. Children want what they want. When we discuss this concept in parenting classes, parents respond with nods of insight. Suddenly they understand that their children have goals toward which they’re striving. When children misbehave in pursuit of psychological goals, parents and caregivers often have emotional reactions.

The boy who’s “bouncing off the walls” is truly experiencing, from his perspective, an attention deficit. Perhaps by running around the house at full speed he’ll get the attention he craves. At least, doing so has worked in the past. His caregiver feels annoyed and gives him attention for misbehavior.

The girl who refuses to get out of bed for school in the morning may be striving for power. She feels bossed around or like she doesn’t belong; her best alternative is to grab power whenever she can. In response, her parents might feel angry and activated—as if they’re in a power struggle with someone who’s not pulling punches.

The boy who slaps his little sister may be seeking revenge. Everybody talks about how cute his sister is, and he’s sick of being ignored, so he takes matters into his own hands. His parents feel scared and threatened; they don’t know if their baby girl is safe.

There’s also the child who has given up. Maybe she wanted attention before, or revenge, or power, but no longer. Now she’s displaying her inadequacy. This isn’t because she IS inadequate, but because she doesn’t feel able to face the Adlerian tasks of life (discussed later). This child is acting out learned helplessness (Seligman, 1975). Her parent or caregiver probably feels anxiety and despair as well. Or, as is often the case, they may pamper her, reinforcing her behavior patterns and self-image of inadequacy and dependence.

Dreikurs’s goals of misbehavior are psychological. Children who misbehave may also be acting on biological needs. Therefore, the first thing for parents to check is whether their child is hungry, tired, sick, or in physical discomfort. After checking these essentials, parents should move on to evaluating the psychological purpose of their child’s behavior.

For more information on this, see Tip Sheet #4 on johnsommersflanagan.com: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/tip-sheets/

 

Youth Sports and Parents: How to Use the Words Unlucky and Brilliant to Your Advantage

Nora Golfing

Unlucky.

This is what the Brits would shout out when something didn’t go well on the football (soccer) pitch.

We were living in England for 5 months. Our older daughter was attending Oxford University and our younger daughter was a 7th grader at a local school in the county town of Northampton-shire. My wife had orchestrated a 5 month teaching exchange at the University of Northampton.

Living in the UK was hard. It rained nearly every day. Except when there was this thing they called “freezing fog.” I recall steadily hoping the temperature (in Celsius) would be higher than the wind-speed (in MPH). Typically, I was disappointed.

It was also hard to find a girls’ soccer team for my 7th grade daughter to play on. But we did. It was amazing and weird and good all at the same time.

What I liked best was the behavior of the parents on the sidelines. In the U.S. parents would often let off steam in rather unruly ways. And in response, the U.S. soccer refs (IMHO) behaved as if they had the proverbial chip on their shoulders. But in the U.K., when things didn’t go well, you’d hear shouts of “Unlucky” in a British accent. How cool was that? Not as cool as what they would shout out in response to good plays. Then, they yelled “Brilliant!” with their British lilt, and it was as if all was well with the world. Later, the refs and parents and coaches would share pint or two.

I have a lot to say about youth sports. And I even got to say some of it during our recent podcast. At least until Dr. Sara Polanchek put me in time-out for bad fan behavior. Yes, I lost my cool, but if you want to hear more, you’ll have to spend the 25 minutes it takes to listen to the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast. We’re in the process of making it big as podcasters, but until then, we’re still small. We’re also brilliant. You can listen on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

Or you can listen on our Libsyn site:  http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

In closing, I have a favorite book and a favorite quotation about coaches. The book is The Brother’s K, by David James Duncan. Here’s the quotation:

“Bobby Edson, like most coaches, was a kind of mystic: he believed the cosmos was endowed with an ineffable muffling system that rendered all the racist, sexist, tasteless and denigrating remarks made by coaches inaudible to the students about whom they bellowed them.” 

I had some Bobby Edson-type coaches. I’ve also heard some Bobby Edson-type parents, yelling from the sidelines.

Unlucky.

 

Saturday Night (or Monday morning) Listening!

20150326_165823.jpg

Dr. Sara Polanchek and I have been cranking out podcasts at a dizzying pace. Well, maybe not dizzying for you, but as I get older, it hardly takes anything to get me dizzy.

Being dizzy is my excuse for why I’m just now letting you know that our latest podcast “How Parents can Help Children with Grief” even though it’s been available since LAST MONDAY!

This is a tough, but important topic. Because life and relationships are complex, often grief for children and parents can be complex and so getting some guidance is strongly recommended.

This episode, number 14 if you’re counting, is about 29 minutes and packed with critical information about how to help children cope with grief. Once again, Dr. Tina Barrett is the special guest and she answers my questions with grace and wisdom.

I hope you’ll listen. I hope you’ll let me know if you find it helpful. If you listen on iTunes, who knows, you could be the 20th person to rate our podcast.  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

As always, feel free to post your ideas or reactions or email me with comments and/or recommendations for our next podcasting topics.

http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

 

Goodnight, South Carolina

Some days . . . the news is discouraging. Some days . . . evidence piles up suggesting that nearly everyone on the planet is far too greedy and selfish. On those days, I can’t help but wonder how our local, national, and worldwide communities survive. It feels like we’re a hopeless species heading for a cataclysmic end.

Sunset on StillwaterBut then I have a day like yesterday. A day where I had the honor and privilege to spend time hanging out with people who are professional, smart, compassionate, and dedicated to helping children learn, thrive, and get closer to reaching their potentials. I’m sure you know what I mean. If you turn off the media and peek under the surface, you’ll find tons of people “out there” who wake up every day and work tremendously hard to make the world just a little bit better, for everyone.

For me, yesterday’s group was the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists. They were amazing. They were kind. About 110 of them listened to me drone on about doing counseling with students who, due, in part, to the quirky nature of universe, just happen to be living lives in challenging life and school situations. The school psychologists barely blinked. They rarely checked their social media. They asked great questions and made illuminating comments. They were committed to learning, to counseling, to helping the next generation become a better generation.

All day yesterday and into the night I had an interesting question periodically popping up in the back of my mind. Maybe it was because while on my flight to South Carolina, I sat next to a Dean of Students from a small public and rural high school in Wisconsin. Maybe it was because of the SCASP’s members unwavering focus and commitment to education. The question kept nipping at my psyche. It emerged at my lunch with the Chair of the Psychology Department at Winthrop University.  It came up again after my dinner with four exceptionally cool women.

The question: “How did we end up with so many people in government who are anti-education?”

Yesterday, I couldn’t focus in on the answer. I told someone that–even though I’m a psychologist–I don’t understand why people do the things they do. But that was silly. This morning the answer came flowing into my brain like fresh spring Mountain run-off. Of course, of course, of course . . . the answer is the same as it always has been.

The question is about motivation. Lots of people before me figured this out. I even had it figured out before, but, silly me, I forgot. Why do people oppose education when, as John Adams (our second President) said, “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

The answer is all about money and power and control and greed and revenge and ignorance. Without these motivations, nearly everyone has a “humane and generous mind” and believes deeply in funding public education.

Thanks to all the members of the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists, for giving me hope that more people can be like you, moving past greed and ignorance and toward a more educated and better world.

Good night, South Carolina. It’s been a good day.